Anger, defiance in famous Istanbul area rocked by explosion

Anger, defiance in famous Istanbul area rocked by explosion


Istanbul’s popular Istiklal Avenue was still packed with tourists and onlookers late Sunday afternoon, hours after a deadly explosion rocked the area.

A couple ran down the street with tears in their eyes.

Hours earlier, the blast, which Turkey’s vice president blamed on a “woman bomber,” punctured the busy shopping street, killing six and injuring dozens more.

The lower portion of the avenue remained accessible after the blast, but a cordon of police blocked the rest of the popular thoroughfare just outside Galatasaray High School’s imposing gates.

Most shops that were normally open late pulled down their shutters after the blast, but some stayed open in defiance.

“We are not afraid, we heard the explosion, but we are open as long as the police don’t come and tell us to close,” said Mustafa Guler, manager of the neighborhood’s Keyif Nevizade restaurant.

Nevizade Street, a row of seafood restaurants 300 meters from the blast site, is usually packed 24 hours a day.

But the terraces were more subdued than usual in the late afternoon.

Most televisions were tuned to an afternoon soccer game.

A couple ate fish on a terrace, a bottle of raki in hand, while those trying to lure passers-by into other restaurants raised their heads as a helicopter flew overhead.

– ‘Attack Response’? –

A lone bar on the corner avoided football, a high-profile clash between Kayserispor and Konyaspor, and showed a live statement in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the “vile attack”.

“We don’t know what to do. Erdogan says it was a terrorist attack. I hope this isn’t a repeat of the attacks,” said Elif, a 22-year-old college student.

Behind him the access to Istiklal Caddesi was closed.

Journalists milled around while cameras panned in front of the police line. Turkish TV stations were ordered not to broadcast footage of the episodes to “prevent fear from spreading”.

Suddenly, members of the special forces of the Turkish police in uniforms, rifles, helmets and balaclavas appeared and rushed up the street.

Meanwhile, tourists with shopping bags in hand continued to stroll around nearby.

“We’re not scared. We know that in such countries attacks happen very often,” said Sylvana Sassa, a 27-year-old Gabonese, who arrived in Istanbul ten days ago.

“Since we’re not staying very long, we’ve continued shopping (after the explosion) and will be heading back tomorrow morning,” she said, holding her pink suitcase.

Derin, the manager of a hotel in an alley 200 meters below the thoroughfare, was waiting for a call.

“I’m not afraid,” he said. “But I’m mad,” added the self-proclaimed “opposition supporter.”

“Furious that my country is in a situation like this again.”

Istiklal Avenue had previously been hit during a campaign of attacks in 2015-2016 targeting Istanbul and other cities, including the capital Ankara.

Blamed primarily on the Islamic State group and outlaw Kurdish militants, these bombings killed nearly 500 people and injured more than 2,000.

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